Carnegie Mellon University
May 17, 2019

Sarah Simon, Judith A. Resnik Award Honorable Mention Finalist

By Ann Lyon Ritchie

Jocelyn Duffy
  • Carnegie Mellon
  • 412-268-9982

Sarah Simon received a rare honorable mention for the 2019 Judith A. Resnik Award. The award, named after the Challenger astronaut and Carnegie Mellon University alumna, recognizes an exceptional, senior woman graduating with an undergraduate technical course of study who will be pursuing graduate or professional training in a technical field.

Simon is graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, in the biological chemistry track, and earned both college and university honors. She is the 2019 recipient of the College Chemistry Award from the Society of Analytical Chemists of Pittsburgh and a 2018 recipient of the Mary Louise Brown Graham Memorial Scholarship.

Initially, Simon sought to pursue a medical career and chose Carnegie Mellon for its sense of collaboration and community. Her coursework in the Chemistry Department influenced her change of focus from pre-med to research in sophomore year — an academically challenging time when she took organic chemistry courses and began a sequence of laboratory courses.

“The professors that year were so enthusiastic and helpful. Organic chemistry courses tend to have a bad reputation, but Dr. Stefanie Sydlik and Dr. Kevin Noonan made the classes into a game of solving puzzles as opposed to memorizing countless reactions. I fell in love with the subject,” she said.

Karen Stump, her advisor, a teaching professor of chemistry and the director of undergraduate studies and laboratories, connected Simon to a position with the Armitage Group, one of Carnegie Mellon’s bioorganic chemistry labs, which was a good fit to her overlapping interests in biology in the application of chemistry. She was selected as a University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Chemical Biology Scholar and completed a summer 2018 position with the Mitchell Group, where she worked to generate a library of lasso peptides that display on the surface of yeast cells to quickly identify infectious agents. In her various research experiences at Carnegie Mellon, she studied the difference in G-quadruplex inhibition by peptide nucleic acid based on backbone identity, and she examined the effects of loop modulation on RNA/DNA hybrid G-quadruplexes. She also assisted in drug treatment studies and investigated genetic causes related to kidney disease at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School.

"Sarah is an amazing young woman. She is intellectually gifted and has chosen deliberately, in a very informed way, to focus her attention on a research career. She will be a leader in research in the future," Stump said.

Simon was a member of the Carnegie Mellon Rowing Club for all four of her undergraduate years, fulfilling roles as the fundraising chair and alumni relations officer, and she volunteered for the Carnegie Mellon Kidney Disease Screening and Awareness Program, serving as treasurer and vice president. She participated with the Carnegie Mellon Preceptorship Program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in 2017.

In the fall, Simon will begin a five-year doctoral program at the California Institute of Technology. She plans to continue her research at the interface of chemistry and biology, with the hope that her work will be translated into medical applications.

“There are so many different medical problems in the world, and even as we get better at prevention, we're constantly finding more problems. Research makes an impact,” Simon said.